Archive | November, 2016

Not qualified enough

9 Nov

There was a lot of talk (and polling and commentary) leading up to the 2016 Presidential election about Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s respective “qualifications” to be POTUS. And yesterday, we made history by electing the first POTUS ever to have no previous government or military experience (attending military school not counting as “military experience”). The post-mortem on the election includes repeated references to the majority of people polled (upwards of 60%, according to KQED this morning) who indicated that they recognized that Trump wasn’t qualified to be president–and the apparent minority within that same demographic who voted for him anyway.

I want to focus on this aspect of the presidential race for a moment. Among all the complex, interwoven, individual, cultural and systemic factors that went into how each of us voted, the perception of “qualifications” is one that deserves consideration. It seems obvious: vote for the qualified candidate, hire the qualified applicant. Qualified is qualified, right?

Wrong. It turns out that identity matters when it comes to discerning how qualified you are. Research persistently demonstrates that not only do minority or non-traditional candidates anticipate needing to accrue more “qualifications” when aspiring to a position–whether it’s POTUS, Head of School, board member or any role with a competitive selection process–they, in fact, need to be more qualified.

In “Critical Mass on Corporate Boards: Why Three or More Women Enhance Governance,” Vicki Kramer et al. present the evidence for why having enough women on a board isn’t just good for the women on the boards: it’s good for the boards and the companies and constituencies those boards serve because enough women growthfully impacts process and outcomes. That said, it’s not as easy as just adding more women. Fortune 1000 boards cite a critical barrier to increasing gender diversity: there just aren’t enough qualified candidates. Qualified, in what way, you might wonder? Having served previously or currently as the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company. Instinctively, this may seem like a reasonable or even essential qualification for someone to govern a Fortune 1000 company. And yet.

Not only does diversity of experience better serve any group (from corporate boards to the Supreme Court to any work or school cohort) than homogeneity of experience (which is to say, having only and all identically qualified people), Kramer and her colleagues found that women are held disproportionately to the prerequisite of Fortune 1000 CEO experience, compared to their male peers. In other words, when all is said and done, despite any talk or presumption of gender-neutral or blind qualifications that treat all candidates equally, women need to have this experience; men don’t.

In unsurprising parallel, Ara Brown identified multiple examples of the statistically significant differences between the education (pedigree and level) and employment (experience and credentials) between heads of color and white heads of independent schools. In “Examining the Pipeline: People of Color’s Pathway to Headship,” Brown presents data that demonstrates: heads of color as a group are more qualified than their white counterparts.

Why might this be so? Perhaps because only the most qualified candidates of color apply for headship (which in and of itself is worth understanding better). And perhaps–like women on corporate boards–only the most qualified candidates of color are considered qualified enough, while white candidates with less experience, less previously demonstrated career achievement and/or less adherence to traditional pathways to headship are apparently, as a group, deemed as, if not more, qualified for the same positions.

Bringing this back to the election, we could have predicted that Hillary Clinton’s over-qualification and Donald Trump’s under-qualification (according to traditional standards of “qualification”) to serve as POTUS didn’t really matter. At least not as much as we claimed to think it would. It turns out, again unsurprisingly, that Trump didn’t need to be qualified in those traditional ways. He is simply more “qualified” simply by having been born a white man, in a system that has historically accepted that as qualified enough. The takeaway, if we disagree with how “qualification” can be used selectively to reinforce sexism, racism, classism and other systems of privilege, is that any one point of qualification itself needs to be assessed in context and vetted for why and how it’s bona fide, as well as applied equitably–and sometimes equally–if it is, in fact or consensus of opinion, a bona fide criterion for admitting, hiring, promoting or electing.


8 Nov

Today, Election Day, I’m thinking a lot about tomorrow. By tonight, we’ll have a new President-elect. Tonight, I’ve decided to stay home. I don’t want to watch the vote tally with my neighbors, and experience my community’s public display of elation or despair. I, like some other US Americans, live—not by accident, but by design—in a politically like-minded community. The reaction of my neighbors will generally be in line with my personal beliefs and emotions. But I don’t necessarily always agree with the expression of those beliefs—including my own expression, which has included intolerance and socially accepted bigotry (about that guy, and those people who support him).

Am I worried about the outcome of this Presidential election, plus all the down-ballot elections, not to mention CA’s flotilla of propositions? Yes.

But I’m also worried about my own intolerance, that I see amplified and reflected back at me through my neighbors, and then amplified and inverted in the voices of other neighborhoods (that are intolerant of us). I’m worried about having gone so far that not only do some of us think the other candidate will never be our president, but that we’ve convinced ourselves that’s an option.

Tomorrow, I want to accept my responsibility as a citizen after I’ve voted. I sense (with admittedly no research or facts to back this up) that too many of us think we vote, and that’s it. If “our candidate” doesn’t win, then we give up, we leave, we go dormant, we refuse their legitimacy, we wait four years. And if “our candidate” does win, then, in eerie parallel, we coast, expecting all of our wishes and demands now to be so, affirmed in our victory over them/those people, shaking our heads at their intransigence, rolling at our eyes that they refuse to get on board.

Tomorrow, I hope I accept not just the outcome of this election (about which I do not feel neutral: I feel everything from the privilege of slightly removed disdain to genuine concern about my safety and the safety of people I love whom I don’t think are welcome in “America, Great Again”) but my responsibilities and opportunities because of what this election has revealed about me, my community and the broader US (that I sometimes pretend I have nothing to do with just because my life can be awfully provincial). I hope that if “my candidate” wins, I can both celebrate the historic election of our first cisgender female president, and recognize the yet-again election of another socioeconomically privileged, heterosexual, white, professional politician—and also respect the anger, alienation and fear at the root of some of the racism, sexism and classism that has motivated and made pariahs of folks on both sides of the political spectrum. Because that’s hard for me sometimes: remembering that a person or group isn’t the issue. And that no one person, even the President of the United States, is going to resolve our issues with one vote.

I really don’t care

7 Nov

I just finished reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, which I highly recommend. Nadia is a Lutheran pastor, former stand-up comic, Cross Fit nut and writer, whose work resonated with me in many dimensions. I kept finding connections between Nadia’s reflections about her work and my own, as a diversity consultant.

Here’s one of many passages I highlighted, perhaps the most important to me professionally. In an interview included at the end of Accidental Saints, Nadia explains the distinction between worship and belief:

The liturgy has its own integrity to it–it doesn’t demand my integrity in order to be efficacious. We get to enter this thing that stands on its own and doesn’t demand a particular type of piety or emotional feeling or even belief from us.

Q: It doesn’t require belief to work?

No, it doesn’t. I’m surprisingly unconcerned with what people in my church believe. Belief is going to be influenced by all sorts of things that I have nothing to do with, so I don’t feel responsible for that. I’m responsible for what they hear… I don’t find belief (intellectually assenting to a set of theological propositions) to be the core of Christianity in the way a lot of people do.

However different being a pastor and a diversity consultant may seem, Nadia named something in her work that resonates powerfully for me in mine:

I don’t actually care what people believe. I don’t need them to believe what I do about inclusion, equity and justice. I do care deeply about what they hear, read and think they know based on the texts of their own experiences and cultural reference points–in other words, I care about the “diet” of information about identity and diversity that they consume, actively or passively (just by breathing in the smog of ideas, facts and misinformation that surrounds all of us). Because our diets are what drive our discernment and action. And our diets aren’t just what we consume: they’re also a part of who we are. And ultimately, that’s at the core of identity, diversity, inclusion and equity: that this is about each of us, not just some of us.

So I don’t need everyone to believe [insert some assertion of social truth], and I’m certainly not going to wait for everyone to give their assent for the work of inclusion and equity to move forward. It’s just my job to make sure people have a more well-rounded exposure to information about identity and diversity: facts, yes (in the form of research, current events, history, and information beyond our daily easy reach), as well as the emotional, moral and social truths that matter, even if there’s no empirical evidence to prove them: the truth that inaction isn’t so much “neutral” as it is defaulting to the status quo; the fact that I’m biased, you’re biased, we’re all biased–and that bias is the human canvas on which we’re trying to paint landscapes of justice.

Racism, emphasis on the second syllable

6 Nov

The question of “reverse racism” or “reverse discrimination” comes up a lot. Still. Maybe for you, too. So here are some tools to frame and educate around the notion of “reverse racism.” Here’s how I explain it:

reverse-racismIn other words, anyone or any group can discriminate against anyone else or any other group on the basis, in this case, of racial identity: Asian people can discriminate against white people, white people can discriminate against multiracial people, multiracial people can discriminate against Latinos, Latinos can discriminate against black people, etc. Discrimination can go any and every which way. Thus, there is no “reverse” discrimination. Discrimination only and ever moves against/for another group, simply on the basis of phenotype, perceived ancestry and/or socially defined categories. Racial discrimination only requires the  bias and permission to treat someone else as better or worse, just because of how they identify or how we see their race.

So let’s talk -isms. Racism is racial discrimination backed by systemic norms and power, i.e.

Racial discrimination + systemic power = racism

What differentiates racial discrimination from racism is whether an act of racial discrimination is part of a larger, normative, systemic pattern of discrimination that is institutionalized, sometimes to the point that we don’t even notice it because it’s so normal. (Thus, “everyone does it” is not a great litmus test for racism. Everyone doing and accepting it may, in fact, be a symptom of deeply ingrained racism that we’re just used to.)

If racial discrimination doesn’t have this normative backing, it’s still discrimination, and it still matters. It’s just not racism.

“Reverse racism” requires undoing and flipping entire social and institutional systems that discriminate against a racial group(s) in favor of another. I can’t explain it better than comic Aamer Rahman in this stand-up excerpt. In a nutshell: reverse racism requires a time machine and some serious re-engineering of global history.

Then, the other night, I realized something. Like, literally woke-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night realized: perhaps the reason racism and “reverse racism” are so hard to understand is because we over-emphasize the first syllable: RACE-ism, when really, it should be pronounced rac-ISM. At least as far as placing power where it belongs.

Still wrestling with #talkingpoliticswithkids?

3 Nov

After a long hiatus, and a long election season, just a quick post with some resources for talking about politics with kids.

What I find powerful across these conversations about how to talk to kids of various ages and developmental stages (emotional, social, intellectual and political) are the useful takeaways for conversations with anyone–including ourselves (I find myself frequently talking back to the radio forum/televised debate/newspaper headline in my head, and even aloud sometimes). Because, it turns out, what’s good for kids, is often good for us adults, too.

As we approach Election Day, I find it helpful to stay focused on a few key questions:

  • What’s my intention, not just in this immediate conversation about this election, but in my own and others’ engagement with politics?
  • What do I hope for myself, for kids, for my community, and the whole US after 11/8/16–no matter who wins?
  • What’s my job after and beyond just voting? What are my responsibilities and opportunities, whether or not “my” candidate wins? Because whoever is elected will be my president. And casting a vote, while important, is just one action within the whole complement of my civic possibilities for action.